24 hours with Bruce George

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 October, 2004, 12:00am

I live in Perth and respond to emergency calls when someone finds a snake in their house or garden. I don't get any money for doing it, but luckily my wife works. Catching snakes is not a nine-to-five job. I can get calls at anytime of the day or night and the busiest times are around sunrise and early evening.

At the height of the snake season, I'm kept very busy. Thankfully, it's a bit quieter in the cooler months. There are about 18 snake busters in the Perth area and in an average month I'll get about 100 calls, with about 40 per cent of those involving removal.

The Department of Conservation and Land Management has a list of registered snake busters. People call them and they'll call whoever lives closest. If they're busy, then they'll call the next closest guy. I turn a few heads when I go out on a job. All of a sudden, this guy covered in tattoos rocks up on a Harley wearing a big moustache and hops off and says 'G'day' and they think 'Ooh'.

I use a T-bar and I've put some tubing across the 'T' so it doesn't harm the snake. You place the 'T' gently on the snake's head and pick them up by the tail. If you come home and see a snake in your favourite armchair, try to isolate him. Shut all the doors and push towels under the sills. It makes our job real easy. To be a snake buster, you need lots of focus and to show no fear. Turn that fear into respect, and that goes for most things. When you fear something, you make mistakes. When I get the snake in the bag, that's when I might shudder.

Due to urbanisation and the destruction of their natural habitat, we are coming across snakes more often. They're not moving into our backyard, we're moving into theirs. The ignorance of human beings is what made me want to work with animals. They might bite and scratch, but they can't tell us what's wrong with them. Even snakes need mates. Every animal from a flea to an elephant has the right to live.

The most dangerous snake I've ever removed from a home was a very large tiger snake trapped in a washing machine. One bite from a tiger snake can produce enough venom to kill up to four adults. There was another house that had three grand pianos and it wasn't easy to use the T-bar. The snake ended up wrapped around the leg of chair and that's when they are extremely dangerous. They can quickly turn and bite. But it keeps us on our toes.

When I remove a snake, there are numerous things going through my mind. But uppermost is always the safety of those around me and the safety of the snake. I get particularly concerned when there are kids about and make sure they are out of harm's way. If they want to watch, I let them look through the window.

There are three things in my life that I really care about: snakes, motorbikes and my family. I have a terrific wife and three great kids. They've had to learn to live with the snakes I bring home. The wife's gotten over the fear of them now and I think secretly she quite likes them, especially my beautiful carpet python, Shirley. The kids have grown up with them, so they understand them better than most. My son, Shannon, helps me out a lot with the feeding and caring side. The whole family gets involved in the emergency care and rehabilitation of many animals.

In 17 years, I've only been badly bitten once and it was a bite from a desert death adder. It was like getting two red-hot needles driven straight through my finger. It was absolutely excruciating. I've been through a lot of pain, but I have never ever felt anything like that before and I hope I never have to again. I had a death adder tattooed on my elbow as a gentle reminder not to let it happen again.

When I'm not catching snakes, I'm involved in scientific research with the Western Australia Museum. We're studying the growth rate, feeding habits and unusual behaviour of the desert death adder and the southwest carpet python.

I've also been busy filming the series. This filming lark is all new to me. Only a year ago my job was delivering bread on the night shift. Luckily, I'm able to combine my passion for snakes with my passion for motorbikes. I get to ride some absolutely fantastic motorcycles and I go to some absolutely fantastic country that I thought I'd never see.

I started in a series on Animal Planet called Aussie Animal Rescue and the producers of that show asked me if I'd like to have a go at doing one of my own. They asked me what my ultimate dream would be and I told them travelling around Australia on a motorbike rescuing some of the world's most venomous snakes. And here I am.

We were filming in the Outback and I was on this quad bike. When you're filming, it's all stop start. At the end of the day, I switched off my two-way radio and raced off on this bike. It was amazing. The crew was like, 'Err, Bruce?'

I also had to get the film crew and my producer used to being around snakes. We were in a pit in Tasmania full of tiger snakes and it was full of long grass and you were walking on them because they were under the grass. I had (the crew) come into that pit with me because I had a point to prove and I proved it to them. Stand still; see what happens. They'll crawl over your feet and around your feet. One even crawled up the cameraman's leg. I said to him, 'just stay still'. The snake had a smell, thought 'I can't eat this', and crawled off. Snakes don't bite; people get bitten.

My passion is snakes and when I'm not catching them or filming, I'm looking after them. At the moment, I have four to look after and that keeps me busy. I also love to go for long rides on my Harley in the Aussie countryside. There's nothing better. I'm doing what I love and I'm just getting on with the business.